Garth Brooks, the No.1-selling solo recording artist in U.S. history, picked up the telephone from his home in Owasso, Okla., and dialed the number of a Journal-World reporter on Saturday, Feb. 6.
The man, whose album sales top 128 million, placing him ahead of Elvis and behind only one international group — The Beatles — had agreed to conduct an interview even as family members scurried about him in preparation for Brooks’ 48th-birthday celebration the following day.
The country icon — known to pick and choose his media requests carefully — had no problem speaking with a stranger for 10 minutes after learning the subject of the interview was Bill Self.
Self is much more than one of Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”
He’s Brooks’ buddy and fellow Oklahoma State graduate, who is on the verge of winning his 400th game as a college head basketball coach.
“Thanks for doing this for Bill,” Brooks said of preparing a piece on the seventh-year KU coach’s milestone victory, which could come today against Iowa State. Self’s 17-year coaching record stands at 399-146 entering a 7 p.m. tip in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Gosh, he’s a good man. If I could pick one word to describe him, ‘Good people’ would be that word. There’s a Yogi-ism for you,” Brooks said with a laugh.
Brooks, who is a year older than Self — “some guys are just ahead of other guys,” Brooks joshed — lived in the Iba Hall athletic dorm at Oklahoma State with Self in the early 1980s.
Brooks attended OSU on a partial track scholarship; Self a basketball grant.
The two chatted regularly in the dorm, where Brooks sometimes would pick and sing with his friends.
“He’s always been a supporter,” Brooks said of Self, who’d watch Garth perform at clubs in Stillwater, Okla., such as Willie’s Saloon. “I’d play around the dorm. He was always encouraging, too. That’s a gift he has.
“You’ve got to remember, Bill is everybody’s buddy. He’s never met a stranger,” Brooks added of his former rec-league softball teammate. “He can fit in wherever he sits down. We had golfers, swimmers, baseball, football, track ... all those guys were in there. All guys are different, but there was a common thread with all of them. Bill is the common thread. He can sit down with anybody and make them feel comfortable.”
Brooks said he’s sure Self’s down-to-earth nature has helped him become exceedingly successful in coaching.
“I love smart people when it comes to sports. You get a guy that is nice with that powerful a record and that powerful an institution and go to the marketing side of things ... the kid still looks like he did in college, which I hate him for and always will,” Brooks said, laughing.
“He brings in youth and experience, which is an odd combination and a winning smile, which translates on the court.”
Just like when Self played on the Gallagher-Iba floor for Okie State.
“Bill ran the floor when he played (as point guard), so it makes sense he’d go into coaching,” Brooks said.
“He’s the same guy in whatever situation you put him in, coaching or playing. He’s never met a stranger. I can see why he’s done so well. If I was a kid who played (and was recruited by Self), you know my parents would love him. It’s a great asset.
“I’ve got to tell you, I love my college to death. I wish he’d come back, find his way back. Not that I have anything against coach (Travis) Ford. I love him (Ford) to death and the kids love him. I think he’s great and is doing great things ... (but) I love you and hate you for it,” Brooks added of the Jayhawks stealing away OSU alum Self.
Brooks and Self are just two of many accomplished student-athletes OSU churned out in the ’80s.
Brooks graduated in ’84 with a degree in advertising; Self in ’85 with a degree in business.
“I graduated first. That means I’m smarter than him,” Brooks cracked. “You’ve got to think about that time at Oklahoma State. Jimmy Johnson was coaching. Thurman Thomas was there, Barry Sanders, Pete Incaviglia, two Olympians who were national champion wrestlers. Joe Dial was a world-record pole vaulter. All these things were going on,” Garth Brooks said.
“When you think of Bill Self ... it doesn’t click until you think of Bill Self the coach,” he added of Self, who was a starter at OSU, yet never advanced to all-conference status. “Then all of a sudden, holy cow, he fits right in line. Of people who affect sports history, Bill falls right in line.”
Brooks, who has yet to watch Self coach a game in Allen Fieldhouse, last saw his buddy three years ago after a Brooks concert at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Self’s wife Cindy, who like Brooks is a graduate of Yukon (Okla.) High School, where Brooks was quarterback of the football team, also attended the sold-out performance.
There will be plenty of chances for Brooks to catch up with the Selfs at a game in the future.
Self figures to have many years on the bench ahead of him.
“I’m sure 400 doesn’t mean a thing to him,” Brooks said. “He’s one of those guys who works and works. When his time is up, then he’ll look at the scoreboard.”
Of course, Self coaches at an institution where the fans expect him to pile up victory after victory.
“It’s nice to have a program that expects to win,” Brooks said. “Our wrestling program, golf, cross country programs (at OSU) expect to win. We’d like to get to that point in all of our sports. I don’t think he (Self) is scared of it. He looks comfortable with it.”
As comfortable as Brooks does on the Encore Theatre stage at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas where Brooks has signed on for five years.